Saturday, December 18, 2010

Life has its compensations .....

... and here is one.  These were on my desk as I walked in from the cold yesterday evening.  I think I liked them better in the milk bottle with the note than if they had been in a vase.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


You know you see on TV programmes and films that people turn up at their own houses on their birthdays, open the door into a dark room and then all their friends and rellies shout "SURPRISE!"?   Well, it was a bit like that when I opened the kiln door on Wednesday morning.  And all these blue and orange stripey mugs shouted out at me.

What was the surprise?  Well, I didn't know I'd painted orange stripes.  They were meant to be dark blue ones.  I quite like them, though.  I hope other people do too as I've got eight of them.

The flan dishes weren't a surprise as such.  What's more of a surprise is that I've never done blue ones before.  I've only either done them in the oatmeal star design for the Made In Stroud shop, where they've usually gone quite quickly.  I like these very much indeed.  I'm getting more into serving dishes, I find.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Being creative

Being creative is so much more than making concrete objects or being able to draw, as I'm sure most people would agree.  I sometimes feel, however, that this idea is offered as a sort of sop to those who sound ashamed of not being able to make things.  "Oh, but you're creative in other ways!" isn't really all that encouraging to people who are probably just expressing envy of those who can paint pictures or, yes, make pots.  It doesn't stop them wishing they could paint too.   I'd rather explore with people what is much more likely, which is that someone told them once they were no good at art.  It takes a few seconds to say this to a child or young person but a lifetime to recover from and it makes me very sad.  I try to encourage people by explaining how I failed my "O" level in art, and not just by one grade but quite convincingly, but I can see that often they just don't believe me. 

When I was Artist in Residence at Nature in Art a couple of weeks ago, the door opened one day and a woman entered saying even before she got through the door, "I'm sorry, I don't know anything about art at all.  I've been trying to think of an intelligent question to ask."  Her friend, it seemed, knew more, and in fact paints a little and we were all three able to get into a relaxed conversation in the end.  But I felt very sorry that someone had come through the education system believing not only that they couldn't 'do art' but that they had to apologise for wanting to look at it without being able to demonstrate some knowledge.

I've written here a month or two back about how much I'm enjoying writing websites and how, for me, the work is just as creative as making a wallhanging or a pot. I'm still pretty proud of the websites I've designed and written from scratch but am also enjoying making one to order where there is less of a design element and more of a making to commission feel about it.  I'll provide a link once it's finished.  This week, though, I've been aware of another aspect to my creativity which is certainly something common to many more people than those who can paint or make things - the idea of being creative with a situation.  If you're given nothing but lemons, make lemonade.

The first lemon has been kilnloads of pots which haven't turned out the colours I was expecting.  This has happened because learning to work with a gas kiln is a little like learning to live with an animal - not so much a question of taming a beast but of learning its natural habits and accepting a degree of unpredictability.  After 100 firings I eventually found how to get the temperature to distribute more evenly throughout the kiln.  This was a great discovery and huge progress rather than a final destination.  The next stage is to find out exactly what to do to achieve the different temperatures that result in different colours in the glazes. The first firing at a lower temperature proved not to be all that much lower.  One expects the first guess at an experiment not to succeed but I was left with lots of pots which weren't the colour I had hoped.  Next time I'll use the information gained and have another guess. 

The other lemon has been the situation which has made me stressed and gloomy - finding out that I have fallen so far behind with my production that whole chunks of ranges I normally keep stocked have disappeared and no real hope of catching up to where I was.

Where's the lemonade? 

The photo at the top shows seven mugs, all rather different in colour.  They are produced with two glazes and two clays only.  Some of the colours are understandable by me, one, at least, is very surprising and so far unexplained.   When my analytical brain eventually switched off trying to work this out, my creative brain took over and I suddenly realised the way forward.  Let go of having to produce everthing within 'ranges'.  Make more of the individuality of pots!  How simple.  I expect some of you out there are wondering what took me so long.  Maybe that's a question for another time.

I really like all these colours coming out of the firings lately.  Some are old and some are new but they've all got their attractions and I'm pretty sure that those who buy my pots will feel the same.  So instead of thinking I've still not got replacements for the things that have run out, I'm thinking I have lovely new replacements!  If anyone wants things to match existing ranges, I can do them, but just not straight away.  J asked me if the iris mugs were to be a new range and the answer is yes, I think I'll make some more of them, and perhaps some other items if the mood takes me, but no, they're not going to be a range as such.  No more pressure of keeping enough of everything in stock.  Time to celebrate the pots I've got instead of bemoaning the ones I haven't.

It's an idea I've been pondering on for a few months, in fact, without the ideas reallly forming into a plan.  Next time I'll show you a couple of new teapots.  In the mean time, creativity in another form.  How do you get good lighting and dry conditions for taking studio shots of pots in the winter?  In your underused shiny new greenhouse, of course!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Can you tell what it is yet? #2

What you need to know is that dark green lustre and light green lustre don't work for everyone and I am one of the people they don't work for.  So I now use them in ways appropriate to the colour they usually turn out.  Usually is about 95% of the time, at least.  On this occasion, they decided to be halfway between the colour they usually do and the greens they are meant to be, resulting in a sort of greyish colour.  I don't mind the effect, actually.  I was reasonably happy with the results, until I asked M what he thought, and was rather taken aback to find that he didn't even know what they were supposed to be and didn't sound convinced when I told him.

Feedback from others gratefully received!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nature In Art

Last week I was Artist in Residence at Nature In Art, a lovely museum and art gallery dedicated entirely to, well, nature in art.  I've been a couple of times before, in the spring but this was the first time I'd been at this time of year and filled in at the fairly last minute for someone else who had dropped out.

It's a lovely place to be and work but I have to admit that this time towards the end of the week I was feeling rather cold by mid-afternoon.  The studio is in effect a conservatory onto a brick wall.  Lovely light, plenty of space.  But chilly, in spite of a new heater.

I spent most of the week catchin up with making silk-painted cards, a job which in fact I have been finishing off this week.  The photo shows my latest additions.  I don't think I've become obsessed with irises, but I do love them and so do many other people.  The iris canvasses are much admired and I always sell a lot of cards of iris wallhangings, so I decided to do a few silk-painted cards as well.  Normally the silk-painted cards are cartoon-like but this time I went for a slightly more realistic look.  And I rather like them.  I hope you do too.  Especially if you're a customer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Autumn Bliss

This really is an amazing plant.  It's supposed to be an autumn fruiting raspberry but ours starting fruiting towards the end of June and have continued uninterrupted until now, when the last dozen or so berries are there.  M and I agree that raspberries are our favourite fruit.  For the past two and a half months we've had a decent serving of raspberries once a week and during a few weeks twice a week or enough for a large batch of ice-cream.  I didn't even cut them back as I was supposed to in February and they still rewarded me with masses of fruit.

Last weekend Dad brought me some more canes and we made room in a vegetable bed for them.  I hope they do as well.  As one of my cousins said once when she was little, "I will be gooder!"  I shall make a big effort to cut the canes down next February, if that is what they like.

I have to admit to a hint or irony in the title of the blog.  Autumn is not being very blissful for me this year, unfortunately.  I've been snowed under with work I don't get paid for and today the inevitable happened - I tried to put together a top-up delivery of pots and found several things have now totally run out.  Hoping very much to be able to do pottery work Wednesday - Saturday next week, but it'll be a bit of  drop in the ocean :(

In order not to end on a gloomy note, it's a year since you'll have been treated to a photo of the red hot pokers in my garden so it's probably time for another one.  This one is hot out of the camera this morning.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The greenhouse project - getting excited

The greenhouse is built! It was actually built a week ago and S wanted me to be excited about it then but I had trouble with this. There were problems and until they were sorted out and I was reasonably confident that they wouldn't return, I couldn't be excited about something I didn't really have.

In the end I had decided to pay a "recommended fitter" to build the greenhouse. Seeing him pick out what he needed from the hundreds of components, we were both very glad in the end. They send you meticulous, well-written and very human instructions, but still it's a complex task. There were questions in the minds of the folks at the greenhouse company about how experienced this recommended fitter was, which first arose when some pieces were missing. They were missing but the greenhouse people needed to speak to the fitter first to make sure he was right. But they did tell me he had never fitted a partition before.

At first I didn't see any problem with this, but I do know now that his next partition will go in rather better. Mid-build I enquired about the curved sides of the greenhouse. The fitter said he had seen that and would have to undo the floor bolts and correct it. When I next saw it, nearly finished, there was still a curve, as well as a gap at the bottom of the partition door. When I measured, I discovered the partition was 2.5cms wider than the ends of the greenhouse. The fitter managed to push the sides in to correct this, but it was clear that he'd have done better to get it right from the start. Similarly with the doors, the main problems with which only became apparent a couple of days after he left. This was why I couldn't get excited about the greenhouse - we couldn't get in and out properly because both back and front doors had problems. We both looked thoroughly at the things and corrected one problem but couldn't get at the others. Eventually the fitter came back (hour journey each way for him, for about 30 mins work) and the problems were nearly all to do with some nuts not being properly tightened, which was of course entirely down to him. I felt sorry for him, having to come back, but it was his own fault and I sort of felt sorrier for me at having been very disappointed not to be able to play in my new greenhouse.

So here we are now - greenhouse up, concrete or mortar put under the gaps between the base and the concrete and it's ready to go. And now I can get excited. When I've got time (hah!) I can go and play, starting with scraping the remainder of the paper off the panes of glass, moving on to taking things into the greenhouse that have been stored in sheds and then putting things up like shelves and fittings.

I then need to work out what is going where. At the moment I have some things I already owned and a great deal of other greenhouse equipment given to me when my parents downsized a couple of years ago. I certainly don't know what everything is, nor how all the bits fit together, so I'm hoping when Dad visits he will remember enough about them to be able to identify things and match them up with each other! Then, finally, that will show where water and power need to get to and M can do the wiring and a builder finish the plumbing. The hose you can see here is operational but will become a tap and some hose outlets and the wiring will become lights and sockets.

A long term project. And I don't expect to use the greenhouse to its fullest capacity for the first few years. It's designed for maximum use eventually. Once you've got a new greenhouse, you're not going to want to upgrade it, believe me.

Yesterday, when the problems were fixed and I could say that I actually had a new greenhouse, was 18th September. The date was quite significant. It was really important to me that I had the greenhouse up by 28th September. There's no plant that required this, no deadline for the plumber to finish the waterworks, no real reason at all. It's just that on 28th September I'll have had the greenhouse here for an entire year. I'm not usually known for my patience, but I think you'd have to admit I've done ok. A year between delivery and actually being able to go inside. After all that, perhaps you can understand why I wasn't going to get excited until the job was done.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The greenhouse project - ready at last!

I'd like to say I exect you'd forgotten about the greenhouse but I don't, really. I must admit I've got rather tired of people asking about it. If you've been following this blog, though, you'll have an idea of the sort of things we were doing first. And that other things have taken over from Life this year.

However - here is the plot - complete with new retaining wall and ready for the greenhouse. A man says he is coming at 9.00 tomorrow to start putting it up but I hardly dare believe it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another Beastly Art Exhibition

Boy, has this year been complicated so far. I think what has happened is that although I am used to juggling, I had not fully understood that I have actually added another element and, unsurprisingly, one or another has been dropped from time to time. I hadn't looked at things this way before but it makes sense of a feeling I've had that I haven't really done anything as well as I usually do. And so it is that Another Beastly Art Exhibition has only two days to run and all I can manage is one photo and a few lines.

The exhibition looks great, as usual, and it's gratifying that even regular customers who've visited our exhibitions for years can still walk in and say "wow!". I really love that we have the wow factor and am proud of it.

Monday is our last day and then on Tuesday I shall be taking my textiles work to hang at Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre in the new Lock Cafe Gallery. Watch this space. I may be more organised about posting to it in future!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I bought a hat!

I'm amazed it's been more than a month since I last blogged. You would think life had been full-on for all of that time and perhaps M would say that it has, but looking back over the month it doesn't really seem that way to me. It has, though, been very busy since we got back from France, two and a half weeks ago.

The reason for coming back when we did was that I had got behind with my pottery work and have a deadline coming up in the form of Another Beastly Art Exhibition. Although the time needed to make the pots was relatively short, one has to allow a week or two for things to dry, depending on the weather, and then time for firings. I can fire every other day at a pinch but not if I am having to do anything else as unpacking, glazing and repacking can only just be done in a day. So today I turned some fruit bowls and that was the last making I am doing until some time in September. Tomorrow will be for glazing.

I was grumpy about returning from France, not least because I had just got into some new ideas in my textiles work. There are new pieces I was working on there that I haven't even unpacked yet and I can't wait to frame them and see how they've turned out. Working on these pieces led me to ideas for other developments and the frustration was that I knew once I had to interrupt the work, I won't be able to take up where I left off. I'll have to do some more pieces from where I am before the new ideas can be regenerated.

One of the reasons I haven't started the framing is that for the last week I've been building a new website for Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre. We had a site before and there were many advantages to this, not least that it's free. However, it turned out that there were problems every few months with some UK users not being able to see any sites for a week or so and since everyone was blaming everyone else for the problem each time I lost confidence in its ever being permanently solved. We were quite possibly losing potential customers because of this so we decided to go for a domain name and a new site. I know my limitations in web building and am thinking I will soon want to investigate CSS but this was a job that needed getting on with so I decided to continue in my usual manner. And I have really loved doing it. This kind of work is really just as creative as any other that I do. They all have their disciplines - certainly making functional pottery is a very disciplined skill - it's just that this is a different sort.

So there's the homepage. And I have to say, I'm very pleased with the result. The homepage is only a taster - do go and look at the rest.

I was telling J, another potter, about this yesterday and saying that I've never had any trouble blowing my own trumpet. Apparently he's the same. M and I agree we had never noticed. It seems to be a British thing that one should not sing one's own praises, but I don't see why not. I'm fair-minded about it. I say when I fall short, point out work that didn't turn out as it should. People don't like that either and rush to say I am a perfectionist. (They may have a point there.) I just feel comfortable in my own skin and with my own talents and don't think it's wrong to say when I think I've made something good. Which is where today's title comes in.

I do, as it happens, have a very large head. Something like seven and three quarters, if that means anything to you. And then in the summer I wear my hair up on top in a bun. So hats are out just when you want something to keep the sun from your eyes. But in Chauvigny market M suddenly spotted some bright pink floppy-brimmed hats and, sometimes conventional and romatic that he is, said how lovely I would look in something like that. "They never fit," I said. "Look!" So he looked at this bright pink floppy-brimmed hat fitting comfortably on my head.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hermann the German

“They call me Hermann the German,” he calls
in an ever-so-slightly falsetto stage voice. 
I wonder if this is because
he’s introduced himself that way to ‘Them’, too.
His once-perfect English deteriorates now
and German and French (we are all in France) creep in
to his conversation, which is more anecdote than dialogue. 
As usual, the stories are peppered with the Big Car Smash
and the Plane Crash and the piece of metal in his arm,
which has been taken out again.
Last year no-one saw Hermann and no Christmas cards
arrived for those who expected them.
We all thought we’d seen the last of him
but now we learn he was in hospital.
He invites me to feel his head (I’m not keen)
where they cut him from here, right down here
and down to here (somewhere in the chest area.)
It’s not clear to us what they did, but
“they took away my driving license!”  he chuckles,
“But it’s ok, I still have a Swiss one!” - punchline laughter.
So we have been blessed one more summer by
this genial Europhile historian with impeccable timing,
turning up to camp in our yard just when we are here.
No longer searching for flint tools or taking aerial photographs,
now he is giving away all his positives and negatives,
he tells me.  Giving away his flints.  Everything.
Everything except his campervan. 
Maybe it is better for him to travel hopefully,
believing he’ll find someone to drive him next year,
than to arrive at the knowledge that he won’t,
but I think this was our last meeting
with Hermann the German.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Photographing wildlife

Followers of this blog and other friends to whom I send links to photos will know that I became a little obsessed with photographing insects last year.  I had planned to concentrate on landscape photography but although I did take some good autumn landscape shots, most of my time was spent on insects.

Well, here I am again in photographer mode and I've still got the bug.  (Sorry about that.  You can stop groaning now.)  This year we seem to have even more butterflies than ever and I have been snapping away.  Actually,  one or two pictures are rather promising.  But then, just as I think I'm doing ok with the butterflies, along come some fledgling kestrels.  They're not there all the time, of course.  And when I go out to find them, the dog inevitably decides he must come too and I think it is he who disturbs them.  We had a fantastic view of them flying low just over us when we came back in the car the other day but I haven't been able to get that close.

So - this is perhaps one of the clearest of the batch.

I'm not sure it's my favourite, though. I rather like the ones I captured when two of the young kestrels decided to descend on a crowd of pigeons I hadn't even noticed.

You can see the rest of the photos here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Eventually today was the day to return to my set of three landscapes that were begun last September, interrupted for lots of irises and sat around patiently waiting for me. I've been trying to face up to the challenge of continuing something that was already in my head without the sketchbook where I had recorded my ideas (which unfortunately I have left at home in my studio.) Things did not go well at first.

Taking a drink (and a chocolate eclair) outside, I suddenly found myself taking photos of creatures keen to camouflage themselves.

This chap is small - head and body about 8cms long. Being rather dull and plain light brown colours you'd think we couldn't miss him in the lush green grass, but in fact every time we looked away it was quite difficult to spot him.

At first glance I wouldn't have said the plum tree offered much cover to a camouflaged creature unless it was green but then suddenly two things appeared which were surprisingly different from my idea of a plum tree and yet kept losing themselves as soon as I took my eyes off them.

The swallowtail flew off too fast for me to capture his open wings but eventually the goldfinch (kept typing goldfish by mistake!) moved out into the open and I was rather pleased to get a clear shot of him in all his finery.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's been a long time ...

... since I posted any poetry here.

This one is new and is, in particular, for M and for S, A, J & P, A & N, who were here with us last year but alas, not this.

Sometimes there are sparrows
chattering in groups, sometimes
woodpigeons coo to their mates,
never too far away from company.
Swallows, or swifts, I’m never sure,
swoop about one after the other
and we have redstarts here,
singing from the trees
severally and together.

And then there is the lark,
flying solo, no need for crowds.
This wide French sky is filled
with his solitary song.
Plunging to earth to begin anew
such melodies that seem to have no repetition,
touching my heart like no other bird.

There is something magic here
encapsulated in this small bird
of midsummer. 
Above the bustle on the ground
his hymn to freedom
is the anthem of this place
where weary spirits are renewed,
hopes revived,
and we are regenerated.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

There are not many shepherds off the coast of northern France ...

... so I had no worries about this lovely red sky at about 5.30 UK time today.  We had already finished our breakfast and I hadn't got to sleep until about midnight so, as the modern saying goes, do the math.  And yet here I am fourteen hours later still capable of conscious thought.  Spending five months here last year has changed the place forever for me.  As soon as we found ourselves sitting with 'un demi' talking with P in the cafe, I felt as if I hadn't been away.  And this evening, as M was feeding Charlie, I thought, "should I water the vegetables now?"  Of course there are no vegetables here this year and as we are only able to stay for four weeks there aren't going to be.  But even the unpacked boxes, furniture still covered with polythene, to say nothing of the nine and a half months intervening, didn't stop the feeling of continuance.

We have been so fortunate today.  Fingers crossed and perhaps tomorrow I will be eating my words,  but we have hot and cold water and no leaks.  In case this doesn't sound anything very much, I should tell you that M reported that this is the first time this has happened on his return after the winter in the fourteen years he has owned the house.  It's fair enough: last September he stuffed old cushions and duvets and loft insulation in bin bags round every pipe he could find, even those which are empty over the winter.  We haven't checked the cottage yet, but in the house we use all is well. Not only do we have hot and cold running water and electricity, we have phone and, obviously, internet.  No delays this year.  I can connect with the world and report that tonight I feel lucky.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Three posts at once

One advantage of having delayed our trip to France is that we are here for the oriental poppies.  There's really nothing like them.

You can see the rest of the set of poppy photos here.

Look at the wings on those pigs!

Pigs might fly, Jane might get her vegetable plot all tidy and planted at once. Here's the proof.

I haven't been able to grow plants myself this year, not having a greenhouse at the moment, but was able to buy my vegetable plants from the excellent Pound Farm farm shop and plant centre.  They have top quality vegetable plants in good varieties at very reasonable prices and thoroughly recommended to anyone in the vicinity.  Naturally, the locals appreciate the plants as well and have already started munching on them ....

....though Jane's Patent Slug And Snail Detterrants are doing something to keep them at bay. Copper pipe surrounding tasty plants, eggshells on surface around and coffee grounds on surface immediately around the plants. Out of view, a beer-laden trap. It doesn't stop everything but it certainly slows the attacks and I hope to have the majority of plants surviving.  It's not perfect, but the demolished plant on the right hadn't had the coffee grounds and I do think they protect against the very small earth-dwelling slugs to some extent.  Last year in France the slugs were getting the first leaves of the newly-sprouted runner beans until I sprinkled on the coffee grounds and after that all grew happily un-munched.

Now I have the vegetable garden planted up there is nothing stopping us going to France.  I am, of course, still behind with my work but it will be easier to catch up with it in one go nearer to the exhibition.

Logs on blogs

This post does what it says on the tin.  By popular request (you know who you are!)

For those requiring a little more information - at least one winter's supply of logs provided by M, bringing a fallen branch or two home each evening from his walk with Charlie, now finishing their drying-out under cover during the summer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A good-enough artist

On Sundays I try to find time to read one of the magazines I subscribe to while eating my breakfast.  Sometimes I question my continuing subscriptions to Crafts Magazine and Ceramic Review.  Over the years I've heard so many criticisms of Crafts, in particular from craftspeople.  I know what they mean.  What appears in the magazine often bears little resemblance to the quality crafts being produced all the time around the country.  It's that age-old discussion about art versus craft.  Crafts often seems to be more about art than craft as most people think of it.

I'm in danger of getting into the ramble of all rambles here.  So many topics branch out from the art/craft discussion.  (Thinks: or do they stem from it?  What's the difference?  Oh dear, that one really will have to wait for another time.)  Today's magazine browsing made me think about my own place in things, though, so I will try to stay focussed on that.

I came away from college with a B.Ed. Hons in Art (Textiles).  On paper this qualified me to teach Art.  Our final year's 'main subject' work was to prepare for an exhibition, dissertation and viva along with other trainee art teachers and the ethos of the textiles department encouraged us to think of ourselves at this point as artists rather than teachers.  However, most of our four-year training had been in teaching textiles in schools, where the subject was more usually a craft subject than part of the art department.  I applied for a few jobs in art departments but at interviews it soon became clear to me that I was applying for the wrong jobs.  I wasn't an art teacher.  I really only knew about textiles.  Having eventually secured a job to teach textiles, I went on my first pottery summer school course that year and so caught the clay bug and that reinforced my thinking that I belonged with crafts rather than art.

When I began to sell my own work it was framed pictures, embroidered onto a water-colour painted silk or cotton background.  Describing my work in those terms I can see how others might have viewed it as art, but at the time I still thought of myself as a craftsperson.  I was continuing my journey with clay (though not yet at the stage of selling pots.)  I then went to some basic drawing and painting classes where I met and became friends with J, who was teaching me.

I became aware that J and another friend, S (who modelled in clay), would introduce me to people as "another artist".  At first I would rather sheepishly try to disagree but I suppose I realised that this wasn't very polite to J and S and began to accept the description.  Over some indeterminate period of time I gradually  began to describe myself as an artist but all the time I think I was waiting to be challenged on the description by a 'proper' artist.

Friends who had other jobs would often be critical of what they thought was perfectionism.  Time after time I would point out the flaws in my latest offerings from pottery summer school and get a tut-tut about it.  Then one year I made a particular jug which I thought was a good pot.  I said so.  I'm not sure people liked that either. 

So it was with the artist/craftsperson distinction.  I see-sawed my way through the years and through stages in my own work, calling myself a variety of things but none totally comfortably.  Stroud Valleys Craftsmen was born and I joined, happily feeling at home with the description.  At the same time, my textiles work had evolved into wallhangings which really didn't belong on craft tables but were much more happily viewed on gallery walls.  Craft shows were where I showed and sold pots but the wallhangings moved to mixed exhibitions of art.  I was a potter and a textile artist.  It's what I did, what I do and I still use this description of myself in some contexts.

Sometimes, though, you need a shorter job title and I am now clear, not only in my thinking but also in what I feel, that I am an artist.  If you want to get into distinctions, my work with clay is craft work, undoubtedly, my photography is often on an amateur level, but my textiles work is art and I'm definitely an artist in the kitchen.  Primarily, though, I'm an artist because I just am.  I can't not be.  Prevented from creativity in any form I soon become ill-at-ease and probably difficult to live with.  Returning to creative work after an enforced break I feel above all a sense that all is right with the world.

So what's with the good-enough artist?  Well, I still have what I would call a realistic view of things and others less comfortable with honest self-appraisal might call a lack of self esteem or too much perfectionism.  I look through Crafts Magazine and see beautifully made pots and innovative textiles.  My less confident self of years ago would have been prompted into self-doubt and feelings of inferiority and perhaps even thoughts of giving up in the face of standards I could never reach.  Now, though, I enjoy looking at what is often better work than I can make but without devaluing my own work.  I'm not a world-class artist, but I don't need to be.  While thinking about all of this, I was reminded of my couselling training and the work of Donald Winnicott.  Winnicot developed the concept of the 'good-enough mother', rather than the 'perfect mother', where the good-enough mother's children grow up to be psychologically healthy.  I'm not drawing exact parallels between the good-enough mother and the good-enough artist but there is something here about what we think we should be striving for.  Perfection isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be and good enough isn't a put-down, though I think it's often thought of as one.  Good-enough is good enough.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Er, that's it, really. You can't smell it from where you're sitting, but at least you can see it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The greenhouse project - concrete but still not concrete

I know you have all been on tenterhooks waiting to see the finished concrete.  Well, one or two of you have commented that the photos were still not up.  So here they are.  Concrete more or less finished but the greenhouse itself still not concrete.  We're getting there, though.

Last Monday turned out to be the hottest day of the year which meant that the concrete was particularly difficult to get into place before it had set too much.  The worst weather for concreting, I am told.  There were one or two other hitches, such as one helper not turning up because his wife hadn't passed on a message (!)  and M suddenly feeling unwell just as the readimix had arrived.  He's fine now, though waiting for clarification from the doctor about what he should be doing now.  The answer is currently, nothing until we have clarified things!

But anyway, here is a lovely new stretch of concrete. 

The plants in the middle are something of a statement.  I am going to have a greenhouse.  I don't have one at the moment.  This is where I am going to have a greenhouse, with plants in.  Here are some plants, to prove it.

Actually, it seemed the safest place to put them, surrounded by copper piping, to protect them from the slugs.  Hope to get them out into the garden in the next few days.

In other news ....  well, really there is very little other news except that I am still either doing work for the Arts and Crafts centre, trying to catch up with household stuff or being too tired to do my own work anyway.  Bit of a grumpy stage, I have to confess.  We are delaying our trip to France but even so I don't see when I am going to catch up with my work. 

Off to acupuncture this evening, which will no doubt put me right in a couple of days and I hope to get blitzing then.  In the mean time, think yourselves lucky I've found a couple of minutes to write here!  (Or not; this is not the best-written piece I've posted here, I know.)  I'm sad at how little time I have in my life at the moment, particularly because it means I don't get a social life and don't get to see my friends.  I know I've seemed to neglect everyone, but it's not intentional, just an unwanted result of having too much to do. 

If only I could post a scent.  The honeysuckle has been spectacular this year.  You can even smell it from an open window on the opposite side of the house.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Greenhouse project - concrete

I'm sorry I won't be here today; I'm working at the Arts and Crafts Centre.  I've never actually seen premixed concrete being delivered and worked on and would very much have liked to.  And it's my greenhouse, my garden, my pottery the concrete is surrounding.  And I'd have liked to take pictures, for the record. But there we are.  The concrete will be here this morning but I won't.

The site is prepared.  Water and electricity emerge from the garage and will then go underground and re-appear in the greenhouse in each 'room'.

In front of the pottery (the building that may remind you of a garage) a retaining wall has been built so that the ground just in front can be level enough to wheel a ware trolley out to dry pots in the sun.

Behind the pottery (beside the new fence panels) the path will end up higher but level with the pottery floor, as it will be all round.

And over the main area is laid pig wire to reinforce the concrete.

You can probably see now why I have been describing this as so much more than a greenhouse project.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A time of contrasts

A long time ago I promised to put up some pictures and write about Going Solo, my first solo exhibition.  It's now a month after the exhibition finished though it seems longer.  I've always enjoyed taking photographs and do actually look at them again, even those from forty years ago.  These photos are only a month old but already I need them to keep the exhibition fresh in my memory.

It was a lovely place to exhibit, having perfectly white walls, picture rails all round, large blank spaces so I could arrange the work however I wanted and plenty of white shelves and plinths.

It was especially nice to be able to arrange little groups of work.  Being short of space on the card stand I displayed some cards with the wallhangings that they were photos of and this really added something to the colour groupings.

It was also good to have the blue slip design, with its seagulls and fish, near the two remaining water bird hangings in their own self-contained corner.  The pottery design arrived the same year as the hangings and they were all very much inspired by the same sorts of ideas.

But that was then. Since then (in fact since just before the exhibition started) I have, as I've said before, been very involved in the new Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre and this has given me an interesting perspective on the exhibition. 

I'm struck by the contrast between my first solo exhibition and the work I've been doing on what is above all a group venture.  Group events and outlets are, of course, what I'm most used to, apart from my small showroom here at home.  One is given a space and inevitably compromises have to be made not only on the amount of work which can be displayed but sometimes about exactly which pieces will blend with the work others are showing.  Having a whole, lovely space all to myself to arrange any amount of my work exactly as I wanted was a great pleasure.  I'm not a person who believes in modesty for the sake of it and see no shame in saying that I thought my exhibition looked great!  It was the sort of display I'd like to walk into a gallery and see.   What I'm saying is not so much about the pieces of work themselves, by the way, but about the overall design and impact of the exhibition. Each morning opening up was a delight.

A week flies by and this one did just the same.  Suddenly everything was being packed back up into boxes and carted off home again.

From the peace and tranquility (yes, that is a euphemism for not as many customers as I'd have liked!) of a solo exhibition I was plummetted straight back into the hurly-burly of the new arts and crafts centre and, as I've said, I've been spending quite a lot of time on it.

This work involves a certain amount of work on my own at home as I am responsible for much of the admin work but it also involves lots of phone calls and working in the shop, chatting to the other artists, selling to the public and other things involving lots of people contact.  I like my space in the shop but it is of course limited in size and I have to select what work to show.  I can arrange my own display but not those of other people.  So the whole experience is a very strong contrast to that of the solo exhibition.

I enjoy being part of a group very much.  I always enjoyed teaching groups in the reintegration centre more than the solo teaching because of working amongst other people.  I enjoyed being part of a co-operative shop when it was one.  I'm a gregarious sort in general.  Early cine films of me learning to swim aged 4 show that even while concentrating on not drowning I was chattering away.  And yet - I am constantly wanting time on my own. 

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that this sometimes desperate need for solitude has much to do with being an only child.  Most other only children I have known well as adults feel much the same. It's not always convenient, especially when you live with someone else.  I am very lucky and very happy being married to M and love our life together but as we are both based at home it has taken us a while to work out how to fit our different needs for solitude and company together with one another.

This is suddenly gelled into a concept when I sat down to write this piece.  Not just the solo exhibition but also my work in the pottery have a quality which for the moment I'm not going to attempt to explain.  When I walk into the pottery to start work in the morning I get the same sort of feeling as when I walked into the gallery to open my exhibition.  A sort of inner "aaah ... " accompanied by a feeling of relaxation and well-being.

I'd hate to be marooned on a desert island.  I'd last about two minutes.  I need human company desperately.  I just like to choose when I have it, is all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I have been mostly doing lately ....

... is getting involved at Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre.  Here I am in front of my pots in the shop.   I have cards elsewhere and a few smaller wallhangings displayed above the pots.

It's all very exciting getting the centre going and it's been a fair bit of work for many of us.  As I am going to be responsible for much of the admin, there's been lots to do getting systems organised.  Once things are up and running it will all take less time but I have been busy, to say the least.

Today I should have been able to make pots.  I'm about a month behind with making my own work and not altogether sure what I will do about it.  But in the meantime we have both been struck by a Dreaded Lurgy.  Actually, it's only a bad cold, but I am certainly under the weather and not up to anything very physical.   It's most frustrating.  It's not only a matter of getting behind but also of 'feeding the inner self'.  I need to be making some of the time for my own general well-being.  Going into the pottery to work feels very restorative these days and I miss it when I can't get in there.

Additionally, I have been living like a hermit lately.  The lurgy struck just when I had planned to become a little more sociable and invite people round and go out with others.  I'm certain none of them want my germs so once again I'm seeing nobody much, which I'm not happy about. 

Hang on in there, folks.  I haven't forgotten you all.  I'm sure that one day I'll be back to my usual sociable self.  In the mean time, I hope this blog is better than nothing and will try to write more frequently.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life returns ....

...  to normal.  In as much as I have what could be called a normal life.  But today is the first time this month I've felt I have time to write this blog.  It took a bit of doing.  Having got out of the swing of it there are actually dozens of things which seemed more urgent for today and at first I thought this would have to be another blogless day.  But then I realised that a different approach is needed because there will always be a dozen things to do.  We're all familiar (aren't we?) with the concept of prioritising but I think it's something which is easily misused. It tends to acquire a rather mathematical, scientific flavour, to do with order of urgency.  Writing my blog is in no way urgent.  However, prioritising should be about the things that are most important and they may have some other quality that gets overlooked.

Over the last few months I have kept meaning to write about my bread-making but other things jumped up to be written about and the bread was neglected.  I've been making all my own bread, though, since some time in February.  One of the great joys of this is that M prefers my bread to most other (although he still feels that proper French bread is superior!)  Previously, bread choosing has often been a bit of a compromise as we have different preferences in bought bread.  Now, things are easy.  Bread-making has also become a kind of symbol of "getting a life" and holding on to it that I set about last year.  Gardening is another part of that picture.  I have been particularly sad that for about two weeks we had bought bread again, simply because I wasn't home for long enough to complete the process.  Yesterday, therefore, in spite of still having mountains of things to do, bread was made and life started to return to normal.  It seems a natural step to add blogging today.

I wouldn't want to ally myself too closely with the slow-living movement because slower is not really what I'm aiming for.  (Though having gone through about three weeks of much-too-fast-living I can appreciate the point!)  I'm really after balance and a certain quality which I am struggling to find the words for this morning (clearly out of practice.)  It's related to self-sufficiency but without the connotations of "I don't need anyone" that that phrase seems to have taken on recently.  It's to do with being personally involved in the processes and physicality of one's own space.  I don't need to grow my own food.  I don't feel strongly about eating organically-produced things.  I don't fret about a garden having weeds or looking untidy.  I just love to be in contact with my own bit of soil and grow things.  I like making food from scratch not because I don't trust or like any other type of food but just because it's important to me to feel involved in the process.

Writing a blog - using the many technologies of digital camera, computer, internet, blogging software - doesn't obviously have much in common with growing vegetables or making meals from scratch.  There's something here, though, about a sort of hands-on connection with one's life.  Writing involves reflection (well, it's probably better if it does!), which is itself a way of connecting to what is going on.

I do want to post pictures and write about Going Solo.  I also want to write about the new Gloucester shop.  But that is all for another day.  Today is for enjoying being at home, doing washing, sowing long-overdue vegetable seeds and getting back in touch with life.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Busy, busy, busy.

Er, well, that's it really.  I'm sad I haven't had time to even write a few lines lately, but some time may come up soon, I hope.  What am I busy with?

    • Firing pots, including new designs ready for exhibition
    • Publicity and organisation of exhibition
    • Packing and delivering pots to ByLocal in Cheltenham
    • Helping prepare room for new arts & crafts shop in Gloucester - opening Friday 2nd April!
    • Setting up admin for new shop
    • Packing up my own work for new shop to deliver on Thursday
    • Support for workers on greenhouse plot!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The greenhouse project - just keeps on growing!

Things are moving forward. Now there is a small retaining wall and the area in front of the garage is more or less prepared for the concrete. This will give us an almost level in front of the garage. There will be a minimal slope to allow rainwater to drain off it instead of into the garage. It will be still be quite level enough for me to wheel a ware trolley out onto it to dry pots in the sun.

The other picture shows the soakaway drain that already existed, having had all the broken bits of concrete removed and the whole things stabilised and sited where it needs to be.

You might think this brings us closer to completion of the project, but you'd be wrong! We've decided to continue on the theme of doing a good job while we're at it and go for rebuilding the retaining wall between the greenhouse site and the vegetable plot. It's just as well. The demolition you see here took M no longer than half an hour. The concrete and stone topping on the wall apparently just levered off in one piece and the blocks, which had no kind of footings underneath, came away almost as easily. Extending the project has implications for how long it will take and when we will be able to go away, but each extra step does seem to be much better done now than later. The wall would have been difficult, if not impossible to deal with once the greenhouse is built.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Going solo

Things were getting rather stale round here.  The last couple of months had brought the lowest sales figures for a long time, partly because I had to turn down at least one opportunity because I was still not back making pots and other outlets had fizzled out for one reason or another.  Eventually I fired the kiln the other day, only to have one of the most disappointing firings for a long time.  This kiln has been uneven since I had it and there are things I can and do do to counteract that but sometimes it still surprises and therefore greatly disappoints me with how uneven it can be.  There are still more things to try, which always makes me hopeful.  But a downturn in selling opportunities and sales income together with a downer of a kiln firing didn't make me happy!

There have been things in melting pots, though.  One of the melting pots - probably the biggest! - is my own mind.  I may have looked idle in the pottery department but I have not been idle in the business planning department.  At first sight, the recently offered opportunity to have a gallery all to myself in April looked impractical, especially as there are other things in the pipeline and bearing in mind that I have three missed months of production to catch up on.  Yesterday, though, I made a decision.  Commit myself to working on sales and being away from my workshop for April in order to get the sales figures lifted.  There are opportunities coming up in the autumn, so it's now that I particularly need to give things a lift. 

So.  My first solo exhibition will be from 13th - 17th April at the Cotswold Craftsmen Gallery, Nailsworth!

I'm extremely excited about this.